5 reasons why I fell in love with cruise travel
I grew up in the 1970s when the television show “The Love Boat” catapulted cruising into a popular vacation option in the U.S. But while I never missed an episode (especially if Charo was on) and enjoyed the show immensely, I never felt an overwhelming desire to take a cruise.
I’m more of a feet-in-the-sand beach type of girl, so the thought of being "trapped" on a large boat with a bunch of strangers did not originally appeal to me -- at all.
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Fast forward to November 2015, when Lauren, my best friend from college, called. She had been trying to get me on a cruise for years. This time, she put her foot down and insisted that I join her and our other friends on a cruise in January 2016.
She chose a five-day Princess Cruises sailing out of Fort Lauderdale. The jig was up for me, so I reluctantly paid for the cruise, booked a Southwest Airlines flight from Baltimore (BWI) to Fort Lauderdale (FLL) and crossed my fingers.
Related: Complete guide to cruising from Fort Lauderdale’s Port Everglades
We arrived the day before since we didn’t want to take any chances on missing the boat, and stayed at one of those kitschy Fort Lauderdale hotels near the beach. It was a great day.
On embarkation day, I became apprehensive, thinking again about being trapped on a boat for five days. I’m sure if you look closely at the Princess port in Fort Lauderdale, you can still see the faint track marks from my fingernails as I was dragged onto the boat.
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But -- surprise -- I had a wonderful time. I went on a five-day Celebrity cruise in January 2019 and was planning a Norwegian cruise in June before the coronavirus pandemic hit. It was one of the best vacations of my life (and I’ve been around the world on some great ones).
Now is not the time to take a cruise and most lines aren't sailing. But when you are ready to set sail for the first time, there are many reasons why you might just fall in love with cruising. Here’s how this one-time cruise hater was converted into a big fan.
Related: When will cruising resume? A line-by-line guide
A vacation bargain
Considering everything that comes included when you pay for a cruise -- dining, free nonalcoholic beverages and activities, the chance to stay in one room and more -- it can be a real bargain, especially for those who live near or are within driving distance of a port. But if you must fly to a port, you can still snag some great flight deals with proper planning.
Even after adding a drink package (mine cost $299.95 for five days) and the flight, the price can still beat five days at a Caribbean resort.
Related: Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings CEO shares his plan for a cruising comeback
Opportunities to meet new people
I’m an extrovert, and I like meeting and interacting with new people. A cruise makes that much easier since so many travelers are thrown together in one space. This somehow makes them more open to conversations and even friendships.
One of my favorite memories from my first cruise was spending the day on the cruise line's private Princess Cays island with a bachelorette group from Mexico City. Other people-related highlights stand out. Every evening, we’d go to our favorite bar for a cocktail with bartenders Richard and Randy, who were great. I had afternoon tea with different groups of people every day, which led to me finding a great trivia team.
Plenty of things to do
My biggest fear from the onset was being bored to tears during the ship’s days at sea, but there was no need to worry. In fact, there was so much to do, some days I actually went to my cabin to nap and watch endless episodes of “The Love Boat” (hosted by Gavin MacLeod, who played Capt. Merrill Stubing) to recuperate before evening activities.
I walked from one end of the ship to the other every morning. I sat and had long conversations with friends on the covered side decks. I played Mahjong with a group of Jewish grandmothers from Boca Raton. I sat in on an informal chat at the ship’s cozy sushi and wine bar about how to set up an LLC. I even caught up on my reading in the ship’s library. While I didn’t buy anything, I did enjoy the art auctions and lectures.
You haven’t really seen stars until you’ve gazed at them from the top deck of a cruise ship. As a wine lover, I enjoyed participating in tastings from vineyards around the world. The spa the day before we returned home was the perfect way to relax with a massage and facial. I watched the Matt Damon movie “The Martian” on a huge HD screen, lounging on deck chairs with blankets (it got a bit chilly at night), popcorn, hot chocolate and adult beverages. And I danced every night at the ship’s different nightclubs.
Related: Stream these 13 movies, television shows to get your cruise ship fix
Drool-worthy food and drinks
Being a foodie, I took full advantage of all the dining options. While I enjoyed eating at the included dining room (where I met people I’m still in touch with), I also took advantage of the specialty restaurants on board.
I’m a huge fan of Los Angeles-based Umami Burger. The chef who founded it, Chef Ernesto Uchimura, created the Salty Dog, a gastropub on Princess ships that features upscale take on comfort food. I had The Ernesto burger made with a ground ribeye, short rib patty and grilled pork belly topped with gruyère cheese, caramelized kimchi, beer-battered jalapeño and charred onion aioli —all on a brioche bun. Drink options included a variety of global wines, international beers and craft cocktails.
When you get a chance to eat at Crown Grill, chosen by USA Today as the "Best Cruise Ship Steakhouses,” you don’t pass up the opportunity -- even with a $29 surcharge. I had a perfect ribeye steak, served with a loaded baked potato and my choice of specialty salt (Hawaiian black, applewood smoked and Himalayan pink). I was too full to enjoy dessert, but I did enjoy the wine pairings with each course.
You will never starve on a cruise since there are myriad food options available, from hot dogs to haute cuisine.
Bonus: A Global Entry line
We all know how long the lines can get when people are disembarking. On both of my cruises, I was able to glide through, thanks to a dedicated Global Entry line. That quick access even allowed me to catch an earlier Southwest Airlines flight home after my second cruise.
If you’ve followed TPG’s timely cruise coverage, you know most of the world’s cruise ships are docked through at least the end of 2020, with some even being relegated to the scrap heap. That being said, cruising will return at some point. If you have a bucket list of travel to go through, you should consider adding a cruise. You won’t be sorry!
Related: Exclusive: Carnival Corp. CEO shares thoughts on the future of cruising